Utilizing Stock Music For Your Brand CorrectlyNovember 08, 2023
At some point, as a brand you will most likely encounter the need for using stock music of some kind. This is especially true if your brand has a high output of videos, commercials, podcasts and the like.
While custom-made brand music is the best solution for evoking recall and brand fit, it is also an expensive solution if each and every single video requires branded music that precisely matches the feeling, genre and style required. Therefore, it can be both a time and money saving effort to consider using stock music for some content. However, not utilizing stock music correctly will make your brand seem schizophrenic and out of touch with its own personality and audience.
Today’s blog post is a guide for you on how to utilize stock music efficiently. Let’s dig into it!
“It is important to remember that stock music has no branded element within them at all, due to the fact that they are designed to be used for many different purposes for many different brands.”
Now first of all, let’s talk about the overall benefits and drawbacks of using stock music.
When talking about the benefits of stock music, the main one is that it is cost-effective. This makes it a good choice for brands with limited budgets and/or time. Stock music also offers a lot of diversity as you aren’t bound to using a handful of custom brand tracks for all of your content, meaning that it is technically easier to find a music piece that fits the goal of a campaign or video. Legal compliance is almost always assured as well, meaning that when you buy a stock piece you don’t have to worry about copyright issues or permissions of use.
Oftentimes, it is also possible to download stock music in stems (the different layers of the music track), meaning that a video editor could potentially piece together the sections of a track that fits the campaign perfectly.
Lastly, stock music is a great place to find inspiration for what you think works for a specific campaign, as it allows you to explore various different musical styles and ideas before making a decision on ordering a custom brand track.
Now, stock music also comes with a whole slew of drawbacks for your brand that are definitely worth considering when choosing to use it or not.
The first of which being that stock music is inherently non-branded and therefore contains no direct link to your brand in any way, like in the form of a specific melody. This taps into the idea of limited exclusivity, and that multiple other brands could be using the same piece of stock music for their campaigns as well (something we definitely hear happening a lot here at Sonic Minds!). This has the potential to erode any sort of distinctive auditory character of your production. Some individuals might even have established a connection between the stock music being used and another brand entirely, leading to the result of them thinking about another brand while watching your campaign… not preferable!
While stock music can offer time and efficiency, it can also be a huge time sink if you don’t have any clear guidelines to choose from. This is due to the huge amount of music on offer, leading to what is basically analysis paralysis for the curator.
Again, it is important to remember that stock music has no branded element within them at all, due to the fact that they are designed to be used for many different purposes for many different brands. These lacking branded elements include a signature melody, a specific instrumentation, the rhythmical content or possibly even the specific tone-of-voice being used. You may find something that is similar, but nothing that will represent your brand as effectively as using custom-made brand tracks.
The last drawback to be aware of, is that using one piece of stock music too often, has the potential of making the audience associate that specific piece of stock music with your brand. You might be thinking to yourself, “But isn’t that a good thing? Doesn’t that just increase our recall?”. While it is technically a good thing and indeed does increase recall, it is worth remembering that people will associate it with the brand and therefore you have to make sure that it is aligned with communicatory goals and your overall personality. The last thing you want is a piece of music that you don’t associate well with, being what people remember you for.
“You should have arrived at some words that you believe describe what you want to communicate, words like “Innovative”, “Human” or “Secure”.”
Choosing the Right Stock Music
So how do you choose the right stock music for your brand? It’s not just about choosing whatever you think sounds good, it’s about choosing something that keeps the brand personality, messaging and artistic intention intact.
Step 1: Identifying Your Brand Personality
The first step is to identify your auditory brand personality. You might already have done this if you already have an audio identity or you might not. This process involves really digging into the brand itself and thinking about how you want to represent yourself in sound. After this process, you should have arrived at some words that you believe describe what you want to communicate, words like “Innovative”, “Human” or “Secure”. Words like that are great, as you can use the words as search terms in the various online stock libraries, making it a little bit easier to find stock music that aligns with the brand. It’s also just helpful in and of itself, as gaining an internal agreement upon audio communication will help you stay more consistent across all your different campaigns and such.
“The first step is to make sure that your music is in the right musical key.”
Step 2: Laying Down Some Guidelines
The next step is to lay down some guidelines that are rooted in audio itself. This is much easier if you already have an audio identity, because all chosen stock music will need to relate to that identity in some way shape or form. For the best effect, all of the guidelines should be combined as much as possible, as they each tackle a different element of the music. Below is a series of points that you should think about when selecting stock music with your brand, that aligns with both your brand personality and your existing audio identity.
The first step is to make sure that your music is in the right musical key. This is both to ensure the right feel, but also to make the transition into your audio logo as smooth as possible. If your audio logo is in C Major for example, look for stock music that is in the same key as that (or potentially it’s relative Minor Key of A)!
Genre is a bit more flexible, but you should try to stay within or close to the genre that your audio identity already uses. Let’s say that your current identity is heavily rooted in the “Country” genre. Then you should mostly try to stay within that to be perceived as consistent, however there is still room to explore alternative genres like bluegrass, or modern electronic versions of country. Don’t jump from genre to genre with each campaign, as that will make the overall brand seem disjointed. Pick some solid ground and reach out from that point.
Building from the Key Signature, melodic content is also important. In the audio logo, your brand might have a specific melody associated with it. While it is probably impossible to find that specific melody within stock music, you could try finding something similar – even if it’s just a couple of notes from the overall melody. While it won’t be enough to be something that would create recall to your brand, it is enough to create some overall consistency throughout your content.
If your audio identity has a distinct rhythmical quality to it, it’s best to stick with stock music that utilizes some of the types of rhythms. It could be that your audio logo has a specific rhythm attached to it, where you could try finding stock music that has something similar. Or maybe your custom brand tracks are very heavily rhythmic driven? Then try finding stock music that is also rhythmically driven, even if it is a mellow and more ambient track.
Besides the melody, the instrumentation is at the core of your audio identity. While it can be hard to find something that has the exact instrumentation or “sound” that your audio identity has, it is definitely possible to find snippets of the instrumentation in stock music. Make a list of the instruments that are being used (or want to be used, if you don’t have an audio identity yet), and let those guide your music choices. You can even use the instruments as search terms.
Some stock music has lyrics attached to them. Be aware that this interferes heavily if you are planning on having voice-overs on top of the music, as our ears will have a hard time determining which voice we should listen to.
You should also be aware of the song’s messaging. What are they singing about and is that something you want your brand or campaign to be associated with?
If you decide to utilize singing, make sure it matches your brand’s tone-of-voice and gender as closely as possible, again to increase coherence as much as possible. This includes choice of words and phrases, tonality of the voice, overall phrasing and so on.
As you can see, there is much to think about when choosing the right stock music and there are even many more guidelines that you could dig into than these. However, these should function as a good starting point to build from.
Stock music will never represent your brand perfectly and will only rarely give you any sort of brand recall. But, when used correctly it can definitely increase your overall output and how “on-brand” that output is, while still remaining cheap and fast.
The best combination will always be having an existing audio identity that you continually expand on, while using stock music for the pieces of content where music has not yet been developed to specifically fit the audio identity.